The man stood. “I said, what are you doing here?” He wore a plaid olive green blazer over a grey waistcoat, a pair of chocolate brown trousers, along with a pair of extra shined black shoes. The man himself looked to be about sixty, with a neat waxed moustache, a well-trimmed salt and pepper beard, and gold rectangle spectacles underneath a grey woolen newsboy cap.
Oliver bowed. The others followed his lead. “Your highness, we have only come for assistance.”
A small woman stood next to the man. Julia assumed she was the man’s wife. “Perhaps we should see what they need, Ackerley.” She was a kind looking woman, with wispy white hair pulled back into a bun and tucked underneath a feathered hat. She was wearing a dress with a full skirt, and old-fashioned shoes peeked out from the hem of her dress.
Ackerley nodded. “Yes, I suppose so. What do you need?”
Oliver stood. “We got lost in a cave. We only wish that you could see us out.”
Ackerley’s frown disappeared. “You mean you are from Up-Above?”
Luke stood also. “Huh?”
“Up-Above.” Ackerley began. “Above ground.”
“I’d guess so,” Julia said.
Ackerley full on smiled. “Excellent!”
Lee frowned confusedly. “Excellent?”
“Absolutely!” Ackerley stepped forward and shook Oliver’s hand vigorously. “We are simply delighted to see you!”
“I’m sorry, I think that you have us confused for someone else.” Julia apologized.
Ackerley released Oliver and frowned. “Yes, I do believe you are. You said something about wanting to get home?”
“Yes,” Luke said slowly, clearly shocked on the sudden change of conversation.
The woman nodded. “Perfectly understandable. I will have some guards show you out.”
“But you must return by… next week at one in the morning.” Ackerley warned.
“Why?” Lee asked.
“Because if you do not show up, I will have my guards commandeer your family and bring them down here forever.”
Julia gulped and nodded.
“How do you know we won’t tell someone?” Lee challenged.
Ackerley laughed. “My dear, would you tell anyone about what you found?”
Julia opened her mouth again, then closed it. She wanted to scream at him, curse at him, kick him everywhere she could possibly reach, but she only stood there, feet stuck to the ground like dried super glue, her mouth gaping and shutting like a fish out of water. She could only look to her friends. Lee's mouth was clenched tight in a thin line, Luke was frowning, stunned, like he was in the process of solving a math question he couldn't quite understand, and Oliver was making sputtering, choking sounds.
Ackerley summoned four guards, quite oblivious to their reactions, and the guards escorted the four through the kingdom, to the exit. Julia stared determinedly ahead, trying to forget about the stares directed towards them. She didn’t know much about life down here, but she was almost certain that people weren’t regularly escorted by guards.
The guards stood stoically, staring ahead, their swords unsheathed, and pointing at the four’s backs as if they were dangerous felons rather than four harmless teenagers. They stared straight ahead, though the hairs on the back of Julia’s neck were constantly standing every time she felt the guard’s eyes on her. They were on the edge of the kingdom, then walking through the narrow passage, then out into the bat chamber, then taking rights and lefts in a seemingly random order. The guards explained that there were hard to see silver chips embedded into the stone to lead them to the kingdom. They finally reached the mouth of the cave.
“Bye,” Julia said.
The guards touched their hats, and delved back into the darkness.
“You know, I don’t think they like us that much.” Luke decided.
Lee shrugged. “Oh well, it’s not like we’ll ever see them again anyhow.”
Oliver however, was staring up at the sky. “We have to go. Now.”
“Why?” Luke asked.
Oliver pointed above his head. “See the sun? It’s almost directly overhead.”
Lee swore, and started running down the hill.
“I think she’s a little stressed,” Julia stated as she tried to run down the hill, though it looked more like a reluctant trot.
Luke fell and tumbled over himself down the hill. “Geez – Gah! Lou – Ise!” He shouted as he bumped into rocks. He stopped at the bottom of the hill. “I won,” he moaned as Lee helped him up.
Lee smiled and shook her head. “You idiot, are you okay?”
“You mean other than the fact that I feel like a herd of bamboozled gazelles trampled me?” Luke babbled.
Oliver slowed down to a stop at the bottom of the hill. “He’s fine,”
Julia was the last to come down. She doubled over. “It seemed… easier… to go up.”
Oliver stepped over to a tangle of thin trees and peered through the leaves. “All clear,” he whispered. “But what do we say?”
“Okay. Oliver, you’re walk is still a little stiff, so your ankle rolled to the side and is a little sore. Assuming anyone asks, anyhow. Julia, you’re a little winded, so we were playing cops and robbers. An easy lie since you’re not all that athletic.” Lee mumbled distractedly as she watched a pizza man approach a picnic shelter. “Luke, you climbed a tree to hide. You fell down.”
“Down a tree?” Luke asked. “I would be a lot sorer if that happened.”
“It was a short tree.” Lee snapped.
“And when did you get so good at lying?” Oliver asked amusedly.
Julia raised her eyebrows. “Really, Oliver? How long have you known Lee?”
“Then you should know that lying is one of my talents.” Lee stepped forward into the clearing. Reluctantly, the others followed. Their mothers asked if they had fun, told them they had pizza and soda, and once again left them to their own devices. Fortunately, Luke’s bruises hadn’t shown quite yet. As of now, he was just dirty. But that was perfectly normal when they played outside.
Julia tried to maintain her manners through the meal and drank her soda in sips. “What do we do?”
“About what?” Luke asked, chugging a glass of soda and pouring another from a two liter of lemon-lime flavored soda.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I’d guess we could just… not go,” Oliver suggested.
“Oliver,” Lee began. “Those people had lived underground for who knows how long, avoiding drilling, excavation, and archaeology. They probably sent people to watch us.”
“She has a fair point,” Julia agreed. “I suppose that the only thing that we can do is to go.”
“In a week? I can’t just stand the suspense,” Luke complained.
“You’ll have to.” Lee said, surprisingly gentle. Luke frowned, but he took a bite out of his pizza.
“So we’ll meet up at the cave at about midnight, then?”Oliver asked.
Julia nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
Julia tried to keep the party going, starting conversations, though the conversation was empty and short. She felt for Lee. Her thirteenth birthday, and all her guests were thinking about was their imminent death. Not exactly party of the year. Through cake and presents, all she could do was give Lee fake smiles. She felt grateful when they left.
The next week went all too quickly for Julia’s taste. The hours slipped through her fingers like sand. She took advantage of the time she had. Playing with her beloved brother, Felix, finishing that fantastic book she was reading, every small achievement seems like something major when you’re running out of time.
Finally, came the day of her returning to the cave. Julia was sitting morosely at the table. They were having steak for dinner, though Julia doubted she could eat even one bite. After dinner was finished, Julia walked up the stairs, and was about to walk into her bedroom, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Julia turned around. Her nine-year-old brother, Felix, was looking up at her strangely.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
Julia faked a smile. “I’m awesome.”
Felix shook his head. “No, you’re not.”
“Yes I am,”
“You only say the word ‘awesome’ when you’re stressed or sad. You hate that word.”
Julia laughed. Her first real laugh of the entire week. Felix had cared so much. He knew all her habits, her favorite meal, her favorite color, what could cheer her up the most when she was sad, and whenever he asked to spend time with her, all she had done was brush him off uncaringly. She hated herself now for doing that. “No, I suppose I’m not okay.”
“What’s wrong?” Felix asked with a frown as he took his hand off her shoulder.
Julia shrugged. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Felix nodded understandingly. “That’s okay, but if you do, I’m always here.”
Julia could have burst into tears right then and there. He would always be there for her, but she didn’t know if she could. All she knew, was that after tonight, she would never be there for him. Instead, she just smiled at him and left into her bedroom, where she collapsed into sobs.
It was eleven o’clock at night. Julia lay in her bed, nervously awaiting twelve in the morning, when she decided that she would bike toward the park. She figured that a slow bike ride should take twenty minutes, and 12:30 was when they decided to meet outside the cave.
By the time twelve o’clock finally ambled along, Julia was already fully dressed. She wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, so she just dressed warmly. She was nearly frozen to the bone going down into the cave last week. Clad in a black sweatshirt and (awful) neon green sweatpants, she gently rode her bike down the pavement driveway.
Good day, everyone! Wassup?! I've decided to keep 'The Cave' on YWS! It was a tough decision, but no backing out now, I say! review it, read it, enjoy it! Thank you all for the reads, and sticking around this long!